How to make a Story Catcher for my next adventure on the Ever After: Cook Conomos
Hook from Captain Hook (cast made from the original)
Net from the Fisherman who caught the Golden Fish (he’s retired)
Spindle from Sleeping Beauty (she doesn’t want it any more)
Crook from Little Bo Peep (her spare one)
“Using the sleep inducing spindle, sew the Captain’s Hook onto one end of the net and Bo Peep’s crook onto the other, and never let a story escape you again!”
Daedalus Design Studios (one of his lesser known designs)
A short while ago, I set a course for home, following from memory – and the smell of hot soup – the route that Max took away from the Wild Things. I have taken over the navigation: the safety of this ship and the care of the crew are my responsibility as Captain and, frankly, I was afraid if I left our final journey to Satnav Steve, we might give a new resonance to the ship’s name and wander the Universe of Stories for ever after. A tad more training is in order for him, I think, before the next voyage. I am beginning to suspect that the characters who gave him references were a little too steeped in fiction.
The ship, on the return, was loaded to the gunwales with treasures beyond price. All had been carefully catalogued and scrupulously examined by In-the-Know Joe, as well as being recorded by Copycat Kate: Mrs Twit’s glass eye, Just William’s cap, an arrow from Robin Hood, Mr McGregor’s watering can, a few last crumbs from Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake, Snow White’s apple, Sherlock Holmes’s magnifying glass, the sword Excalibur (which may mean that the government of the land now has to be moved to the Story Museum – I do hope they are willing to take that on), and a stray India red rubber ball (not sure where that came from). Our Never-Ending Store still has capacity, but we may be carrying more than there is space for The Story Museum to display. I am also counting on them having no objection to a menagerie: we have brought with us Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia, for instance – a very conversational creature. And – it seemed a coup when Lookout Kate and In-the-Know Joe adopted it – we have with us a baby dragon. I was anxious it might be a fire hazard, but had Cook Conomos keep its basket in the galley, where she has the wherewithal to put out a sudden blaze – but of course there is the worry that it won’t always stay this size. I am hoping it is the same breed as Toothless and will stay tiny. Otherwise, even with that courtyard, a full-grown dragon might, before long, cause alarm and a bit of a crush in Pembroke Street. The University’s bulldogs might well take exception.
What an adventure it has been. We have entered our wildest dreams. We have faced many dangers – the hurtle towards Superhero City made me a little less than captainly, I fear, in my alarm. We have hung on cliffs, dived into thick plots, negotiated unexpected twists and teetered on the brink of open endings.
And I have to say I was proud of my crew, whose commitment, imagination and attention to detail carried us through. Copycat Kate’s images were accurate records of skill and beauty and charm. Satnav Steve might have had no sense of direction but he was intrepid about adventure and kept us all cheerful with his lively travellers’ tales. In-the-know Joe brought a close and knowledgeable eye to our discoveries, along with invaluable technical skill and a way of expressing scientific ideas lyrically. Cook Conomos conjured delights out of thin air, not only in the galley but in between watches as she nourished us with her rich store of fables. Lookout Kate was not only a monkey in the rigging but also witty, resourceful and smart, and you could always count on her powers of observation. Even the bandicoot had her moments: sometimes her tricksiness surprised us in a good way – she came up trumps, for instance, as sous-chef to the cook, when it came to gathering ingredients. Any shared involvement with stories, it turns out, is a bonding experience.Our arrival into port was a happy one. We were sailing into the sunset when Lookout Kate called ‘Land Ahoy!’, and we slipped away from aspiring dreams and towards the Dreaming Spires. There were gasps of delight in the Mission Control room at the Museum as we came down the gangplank with our finds. It is a place already bursting with imagination, and accustomed to the magic of going into stories, but even by their standards we had a rich haul.
We have places we still want to go. We didn’t get to Interactivia – the land of video game stories. I took a decision not to make harbour there because its landscape is changing all the time. It seemed risky to come to rest on shifting sands. I think what we need on our next excursion is the company of children: they seem to be best at negotiating a path through this sort of terrain.
It is also of course true that our venture can never be complete. The Universe of Stories, as is the way of universes, has no known limit. There is no finite number of tales in the world, nor do we ever have enough. Those who hunger for narrative find their appetite is never sated, but only increased by being fed. And like stars in the expanding universe, new stories are – happily – being born all the time. We cannot count or itemise every creation in that twinkling heaven. We can only gaze and wonder, and lose ourselves in the immensity. If you have an exploring spirit, as we do, I recommend that you take off on your own expedition into that universe and find your own treasures. Bon voyage.
Looks like Twist is coming home with me.
Ahoy there, story-seekers! It’s me again, Satnav Steven, reporting from the observation deck of the Prattleship-class Narrative Ark, the Ever After.
What would you know?!? Just after I was put on deck-mopping duty as punishment for accidentally turning the ship and all our crew into cartoons, we’ve had another close shave, and… THIS TIME IT WASN’T MY FAULT!!
Haha! That’ll show Captain Jones that it’s not only me who occasionally muddles up our destinations.
As you may or may not know, the Ever After is fast approaching the end of her BRILLIANT story-seeking voyage and In-The-Know-Joe felt certain we needed to land the ship and do some last minute maintenance before setting off on the long journey home across the Story Universe.
Everyone agreed we could do with a bit of a break and a spot of lunch, so Captain Jones guided the vessel down on a seemingly never-ending grassland we’d been crossing for ages at the edge of vast city.
In no time, everyone was taking it easy and tinkering about in the sunshine with a few jobs that needed seeing to. Cook Conomos lit a fire to barbecue some food, In-The-Know-Joe repaired one of the narrative thrusts, Lookout Kate went to explore a stream a little way off, and the Captain sat down for a snooze in her favourite deckchair. Sounds perfect, right?
Just when things looked like they couldn’t be calmer, distant horns suddenly sounded and clouds of arrows filled the sky, slamming into the side of the Ever After.
‘We’re under attack!’ Captain Jones shouted, practically flying out of her chair. ‘All crew, take cover!’
The Captain grabbed me by the arm and yanked me up the gangplank to the observation deck.
‘Where are we?’ she whispered. ‘Where have I landed us?’
I jumped to the navigational controls, found our coordinates and gasped. In her dozy state, Captain Jones hand set the ship down in the Fields of Epic Battle, and in case you hadn’t already guessed… THAT’S NOT A SAFE PLACE TO BE!
Lookout Kate, Cook Conomos and In-The-Know-Joe were soon onboard and huddled on the observation deck with us as another storm of arrows hit the side of the ship. We all stared through the round window, gawping with wide eyes as two ferocious armies clashed in front of us. One army was led by a lion, and the other was commanded by a tall and terribly pale woman dressed in white and silver. She kept pointing her wand at rival soldiers and turning them into… were my eyes playing tricks on me?? SHE WAS TURNING THEM TO STONE!
‘We have to get out of here,’ Captain Jones said, and fired up the engines. It wasn’t a moment too soon. The White Witch spotted the Ever After in all the commotion and started casting her spells at us.
“ZAP!” One of the yarn spinners turned to stone.
“ZING!’ Then another… and another.
The ship lurched off the ground, leaving the Fields of Epic Battle out of sight beneath us for a moment. Captain Jones steered the Ever After straight up towards the darkening sky. We whirled higher and higher before setting our course for a castle-like building near the edge of the great city.
I could almost have cried with relief. It looked like we may just be out of trouble… well… it did until strange shapes appeared, swirling down from above the castle.
‘What are they?’ Cook Conomos asked. We all pressed our noses to the glass. As the shapes got nearer we saw they had arms, and were shrouded in long, floating rags.
‘DEMENTORS!’ Lookout Kate screamed. ‘WE HAVE TO ESCAPE!’
With that, Captain Jones activated the ship’s mightiest narrative thrust and rocketed straight past the skeletal monsters. One of those horrible things bounced right off the front window and I got a glimpse of a grotesque, sucking mouth beneath its hood. GROSS!
We needed an escape route from this place, and we needed one fast. I grabbed the nearest map from my navigator’s desk and looked for somewhere safe.
‘A-HA!’ I shouted when I spotted it. The city at the edge of the Fields of Epic Battle was Superhero City. We’d definitely be able to find help there.
‘That way,’ I yelled. ‘We’ll be safe in there!’
Captain Jones cranked up the power so high, the lever snapped off, and we hurtled towards Superhero City like a comet.
Whizzing below us, I spotted orcs firing their catapults at battalions of elves and dwarves, Titans fleeing from a young Greek demigod, and a one-eared rabbit prince fighting the metal-clad Gorm.
The Ever After was suddenly amongst tall skyscrapers and gigantic palaces. I have to admit, it didn’t seem a whole lot better than the battles we’d just left behind. Everywhere we looked there were superheroes fighting super-villains across the rooftops, through the air, and racing along the streets in their hero-mobiles.
But that wasn’t all.
‘Oh no!’ Captain Jones gasped. She gripped the wheel until her knuckles turned white. ‘The Narrative Thrust! It’s gone wild! It won’t stop!!’
Everybody screamed. The Ever After was heading straight for The Daily Bugle newspaper building. We were doomed to crash and we’d probably all be blown to pieces… CRASH, BANG, KA-BOOM… the end.
Haha! You know I wouldn’t finish the story like that. Don’t forget where we were when the ship lost control.
Before we even had time to wet our pants with fear, Spiderman swung into view. He darted this way and that between the street signs and skyscrapers, firing ropes of web in all directions until a giant net formed in front of The Daily Bugle.
Needless to say I’m still alive, so it won’t surprise you to hear that clever Peter Parker saved us all, and just in the nick of time.
Phew… we were all so shocked from everything that had happened, we just let the Ever After dangle there for a good hour while we caught our breaths and ate a snack. Captain Jones even took that nap she missed out on.
I’ll be curious to see if she puts herself on deck-mopping duty, HAHA!
Who knows where we’ll end up next? I hope it’s someplace quiet…
Ahoy there, story-seekers! It’s me, Satnav Steven, reporting from the observation deck of the Prattleship-class Narrative Ark, the Ever After.
Ooooooh, it’s been a strange day. Strange, even for us, and that’s saying something when you live on a flying vessel that sails the length and breadth of the Story Universe. You won’t believe me when I tell you what’s been going on… I’m certain you won’t… but I swear every word of what I’m about to say is true.
We’d spent a peaceful day wandering the Spoken Isle while Cook Conomos collected ingredients for a whopping great meal to celebrate our escape from the Lands of HORROR! Everything was calm and happy.
Once all the ingredients Cook needed had been found, we all headed back to the Ever After and I flew her gently over the Mountains of Wonder and out across the Bay of Funny. It was supposed to be a nice, quiet evening. I steered the ship starboard and set the narrative thrust to drift across the Plains of Nonsense.
Sounds lovely doesn’t it? I thought so, so I put my feet up and relaxed. I’ve really been getting the hang of this navigation malarkey recently and I was enjoying having the observation deck all to myself. Just me… my thoughts… AND A GIANT, SWIRLING, MULTI-COLOURED CLOUD RUSHING STRAIGHT TOWARDS US.
Before I could steer the Ever After to safety, the flashing cloud erupted from somewhere over the Cliffs of Cartoon and we flew straight into it. For a moment everything went dark, and the air was filled with the sound of cymbals, Swanee whistles, laughing, splats and crashes and whoopee cushions.
I thought I’d gone stark, raving bonkers until the darkness faded and the world twinkled back into view… but it wasn’t the same world I’d been looking at only seconds earlier. Everything on the observation deck was now brightly coloured and warped at strange angles. I glanced at my compass, and my compass glanced back at me with large, animated eyes. It winked, then suddenly sprouted arms and legs, and ran off in the direction of the Never Ending Store.
‘What’s going on?!?’ Captain Jones screamed as she came rushing onto the deck. I turned to face her and… and…
Captain Jones gawped at me. I gawped at Captain Jones. WE WERE CARTOONS!
The flashing, swirling cloud must have been a portal between the living and the animated worlds.
‘What have you done, Satnav?’ The Captain asked. She looked hilarious. Her hat now had two eyes on the front of it, and her uniform was wonky and massively over-sized. ‘I said, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?!’ Smoke billowed from her nostrils and her eyes turned red. Our cartoon captain was a lot scarier than the real Captain Jones, so I wasn’t going to keep her waiting. I opened my mouth to explain, but was quickly silenced as the ship’s wheel leaped down to the floor and started dancing a jig with all the other pieces of navigational equipment.
That was it! The Ever After spun out of control and twisted into a nosedive.
‘AAAAAGH! STOP THAT WHEEL!’ Captain Jones yelled as she flew past me. It felt like we were inside a tumble-dryer.
SPLAT!! ZING!! BLAMMO!!
Captain Jones made a swipe for the wheel as it clattered up the wall, but missed. It howled with high-pitched laughter and continued to dance about as the ship turned upside-down and rocketed across the Cliffs of Cartoon.
ZING!! BLUH!! WHOOMFF!!
I landed against the huge front window with a heavy BUMP, but bizarrely it didn’t hurt at all. I’d forgotten you can’t feel pain if you’re a cartoon. Brilliant!
With my face smooshed against the glass, I looked out and gasped with a mixture of wonder and terror at the view. Outside, I could see animated characters in their hundreds. They were whizzing about through the air, clambering up and down the smiling rock-face, and splashing through the twisty waves.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. As we spiraled along, I spotted a flying house attached to thousands of balloons. We narrowly missed it, swerving as the ship’s wheel bounced across the ceiling.
Below, a flying machine with a bald super-villain and his yellow minions riding in the cockpit fired its laser guns at us, and a pelican with two clown fish in its beak swooshed out of our path with a load SKWARK!
‘WE’RE GOING TO CRASH!’ Captain Jones bellowed as she cart-wheeled this way and that… but we didn’t. Somehow, our animated ship’s wheel seemed to know where it was taking us with its dancing.
I was starting to enjoy myself as we zipped close to the water and circled a mermaid singing on a rock, brushing her hair with a dinglehopper.
Whoosh! A palace of ice suddenly crystallized on the cliffs in front of us as a white-haired princess in a blue dress shot snowflakes from her fingertips.
The Ever After zoomed up and over the palace, then swooped down just in time to avoid a young Maui girl standing on the hand of a vast, green goddess.
‘WHEN IS THIS GOING TO END?’ The Captain huffed as she landed next to me against the window.
BLOP!! POW!! CRUNCH!!
Just by luck, I knew the answer. I’d been looking at maps of the Story Universe only yesterday and I knew the ocean between the Land of Funny and the Isles of Adventure marked the borders of the Cartoon World.
The ship’s wheel spun us out to sea and…
CRASH! BOOM! WHIZZ! POP! PFFFFFTTTTT! WAH-WAH-WAH!!
Everything on the observation deck bent and warped again, then returned to its usual “real world” appearance. The Ever After steadied itself and came to a slow cruise above the water, while Captain Jones and I tumbled to the floor with a painful WALLOP.
I suppose you can guess the rest. I’ve been put on deck-mopping duty for the rest of the evening by the Captain. She wasn’t too happy with me for flying us into that swirling, multi-coloured cloud, but between you and me, I’m glad I did.
Strangely, I’m in the mood to watch cartoons once I finally get back to my cabin tonight. Haha!
Happy story-seeking, adventurers!!!
Opa! Yamas! Whooppeee! Finally we land on the Spoken Isle! I thought we would NEVER get here especially after that land of sci-fi horror that we just experienced… the SLOP that we had to force down our throats – colourless, odourless, textureless and tasteless! Ugh! My ancestors would have turned in their graves.
Speaking of ancestors – this is the land of our ancestors. The land of our past where the greatest stories, myths and legends were born and told around camp fires and inspired future generations for ever after. Look at the rolling hills, the palaces, the sunny sky and the sparkling seas. Ah, yes I’m home. This is the land where I will find the juiciest, tastiest, most magical and enchanted ingredients for our collection and for my recipe book. I intend to cook up a feast for the crew to boost morale after that grey gruel we all had to endure.
Cook Conomos Shopping List from The Spoken Isle
Snow White’s Apple (Note to self: careful with the poisoned half!)
- Peas and Beans
Pea from Princess and the Pea
Beans from Jack’s Beanstalk
The Crow’s cheese from Aesop’s Fox and the Crow
Hansel and Gretel’s Gingerbread House
The Gingerbread Man
- Wine and Mead
Red and White Dragons’ Mead – from the Mabinogion Story (Warning: Too much can bring on severe day-time drowsiness. Perfect just before a siesta!)
Captain Jones has given us some time to roam about and explore. ‘Now remember, you’re not to look Medusa in the eyes and you’re not to fall asleep for 100 years and NO ONE under ANY circumstances is to venture into the Underworld. I want you back by sunset sharp!’ she warns.
‘Well Captain, I am not babysitting the bandicoot or I’ll never get all my ingredients in time!’ I retort. But the Captain doesn’t hear me. She is too busy reminding Satnav Steve to go straight to the moral fables and learn some important lessons about time-keeping and navigational skills.
The others are all talking at the same time, Copy Kat is desperate to catch a glimpse of Robin Hood and bring back a portrait of Maid Marian, Lookout Kate wants to try her hand at pulling out the sword in the stone and In-The-Know Joe wants to take some samples from the Tree of Life, so I quickly slip away with my checklist and shopping bag.
Apples are a good place to start.
I’ll go straight to Snow White’s Palace. It will be easy enough to ask for her apple as everyone knows how kind and generous she is and she will have no objection to giving her step-mother’s apple to such a worthy cause.
But what do I discover on arrival? Snow White turns white and starts apologising profusely.
‘Sorry, sorry, she just came a moment ago and wanted it so I gave it to her, I’m so sorry, please accept my apologies, she was so cute and bristly, she had these little feet and…’
‘Grrr!!!! That pig-footed, devious, infuriating bandicoot! Never mind, Snow White, it’s a long story. Say hi to Grumpy for me,’ I mutter.
‘Why don’t you ask Hercules to give you the magical Hesperides apples belonging to the goddess Hera? Those are even better than mine as they grant immortality. Hercules came past here just a moment ago. If you’re quick you might catch him before he heads to Hades for his final labour.’
I run as fast as I can and catch a glimpse of him flexing his muscles just before he disappears into a dark cave. Oh no! Too late!! No Underworld for me – orders are orders.
I could try to find King Midas’ golden apples but they will not satisfy the hungry bellies of the crew and may result in a few broken teeth! The only one who eats golden apples is the Firebird and I can’t very well bring that back with me.
2. Peas and Beans
Right, these should be easier, they are lightweight, less valuable, no trouble at all…
I am taken to a dark room with an enormous stack of 20 mattresses and 20 quilts. ‘The pea is between one of these mattresses’, I’m told. Ooof! This will be hot work. I should have brought Lookout Kate for help, she’s fast and strong, and she’d also be good at climbing up the beanstalk which is next on my to do list!
I start unstacking the mattresses. Dripping with sweat I feel around for the pea between each layer. Yes! I’ve found it! Small and round. Oh and I’ve found another! And a few more! Aha! So all these years we thought there was only one! Fantastic! I fill my hands with the peas and run out into the light with delight. Why are they brown? I sniff them… oh no! Not peas but POO! WHO left their POO?!? Ugh!! Who else but that troublesome twisted bandicoot! Right that’s put me off peas for life. And beans for that matter.
- Peas and Beans
Enough of all things round, I’ll look for something completely different…
I find the crow perched on a branch with the cheese in its beak. The cheese looks soft and white. Perhaps it is brie or feta! Whatever it is it looks delicious. The fox is standing just beneath the branch and is about to speak. I run over and interrupt the scene.
‘Crow! Do not listen to this fox he only wants your cheese,’ I cry out, ‘I am from the future. If you give me your cheese I can re-shape your destiny!’
‘The Norse god Odin needs two trusty crows to fly around the world and bring him information. You could go down in history as god Odin’s crow as opposed to the crow that was outsmarted by the fox.’
At th at moment I see a tail and hear a rustle in the bushes… if that’s Twist I’LL THROW SOMETHING AT HER!!!##@@
Whatever it is, it has disappeared. I turn back to the crow and to my dismay I see him sobbing on his branch.
The fox is smiling at me widely, his teeth full of feta! The truth is I don’t feel safe in his company.
I must have some cheese, otherwise we won’t have any protein on the Story Craft! I know where a good cheddar can be found but am I brave enough to venture into the enchanted woods? I suppose I will have to be…
There is a strange atmosphere as I make my way through the enchanted woods towards Circe’s mansion. What was I thinking taking this on by myself? I long for the support of my crew now more than ever. Odysseus never went anywhere without his crew. No wonder Captain Jones keeps talking about the importance of team work. But really, what sort of a team-player has that bandicoot been? She’s just a nuisance! I’ll feed her Circe’s cheese and turn our pig-footed bandicoot into a pig and then she can join the three little pigs and stay in the Story Isle and out of the way! Ugh!
I walk through a garden full of the most delicious looking fruit. It’s so enticing, dripping with juice, so fragrant. I’ll just take a short break, I could do with something sweet…
Arrrrgghhhhh! Something BIT me on my LEG!! I drop the fruit, and then realise to my horror that it is LOTUS FRUIT, I remember the story now – this is the dreaded fruit of forgetfulness! One taste of it and I could have forgotten everyone and everything just like the members of Odysseus’ crew that forgot their homeland! (Should I take some back for In-The-Know Joe? He would love to discover the unique properties that bring on forgetfulness. But no, no I won’t, in a fit of hunger one of us might be tempted to eat it and then we will forget our way back home!)
Home… I want to go home and home is where my friends are…
My tummy is rumbling with hunger, my leg hurts, my checklist has disappeared and all I have in the world is a handful of bandicoot poo. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I smell it. I taste it and then put the whole lot into my mouth. Mmmm… spicy! Who would have thought? A great Story Craft snack: compact, nutritious and DELICIOUS. This will keep me going until I reach the Story Craft!
I arrive back before anyone else, the Ever After is empty. I sigh and walk sadly into my empty kitchen… and what do I see before me???
An apple! A Pea! Beans! Cheddar Cheese! Gingerbread (a little nibbled)! Wine! Mead! Even some Golden Eggs! Impossible! Who did this for me? There’s a crumpled checklist next to the food with a little tick scratched into the box next to each ingredient. I recognise those scratch marks. I look down at my bitten leg. Yes, it’s a bandicoot bite!
‘Twist, I misjudged you, I’m SO sorry!’ I cry out, with tears in my eyes. Twist appears from behind a cupboard and looks at me, her ears twitching. ‘You are full of surprises,’ I say, giving her bristles a stroke for the first time, ‘first your tasty poo, then all this! Thanks to you, we will have a feast after all!’
Eye-deally aged, rustic and robust Cyclops’ wine with complex aromas of sweet plum, cherry and currant.
Stewed Snow White apple with a drop of mead. Perfect accompanied by the kiss of a loved one.
Note to crew: Overconsumption can cause drowsiness!
Golden-yolk cheesy omelette with mushy pea and beans.
Spicy home-made gingerbread.
Choose from a range of hand cut gingerbread shapes: man, princess, crow, witch, bandicoot.
Eyes, nose, mouth and button decoration- fresh Bandicoot Poo!
The drums are banging outside. Sunlight streaks into our cell, lighting the sand-covered floor where Twist nervously fidgets. She doesn’t understand what it going on, can’t make sense of the metal spikes that have been strapped to her tail making her look like a mini dinosaur, nor the horned helmet that adorns her head. We’ve been fed a disgusting grey gruel and dressed in ridiculous outfits, outfits we’re told will make it easier for us to fight!
This is the log of Science Officer Joe.
Cook Conomos is banging her ladle on the cell door, the one we entered through, still outraged at the slop they dared to call food. Our Captain is pacing the cell in her rusted and dented suit of armour. They let her keep her hat. Satnav Steve is banging his compass on the side of the wall muttering. ‘But I’m sure north-west is that way. I’m certain of it.’
He has a large shield strapped to his back and is sporting a magically light chainmail that the guards called Mithril. Copy-Kat has her face pressed up on the bars of our cell, the bars that face the arena. She is scratching an image into the dirt, an image of the amphitheatre-style seating that surrounds the arena on which thousands of onlookers wait for the entertainment to begin, every now and then stopping to scratch underneath the strange green-scaled armour that keeps irritating her skin.
‘What do they want with us?’ shouts Ship’s Boy Kate from underneath her bamboo plate protective clothing as she inspects a rather battered old brown leather whip.
‘Elementary, my dear wanderer.’
His voice came from the darkest corner of the cell. We’d been so shocked by our ordeal that we had not noticed him there. You could hardly blame us. You would have other things on your mind if you had been through what we had been through.
‘Who are you? And what’s going on?’ asked the Captain of the voice in the dark.
A tall man stepped out of the shadows dressed in a long grey travelling cloak and a deerstalker hat. He looked us all up and down and said…
‘Let me answer that by telling you something about yourselves. You have been travelling the world of stories in a prattle ship. Judging by the residue of narrative thrust on your fingers you are the science officer,’ he said, pointing at me, and then continued.
‘You are a crew on a story collecting mission. Your captain here still wears her hat. Elementary. The detailed sketching being done by this young lady tells me that you have an onboard artist who clearly illustrates what you find. The lost look of this gentleman with the broken compass tells me that he is your frustrated navigator, frustrated because his compass is broken and because he lacks the skill to navigate without it – why else would he be frustrated unless his incompetence has got you lost before? Yes! That’s it.’
His eyes sparkled as he became more animated.
‘Judging by the jitteriness of your bandicoot, famed for their fear of giant squid, I would say that your navigator took a wrong turn and led your ship within a tentacle’s reach of the giant squid that is said to live 20 leagues deep off the north shore of Animaland. Your ship was taken up by the squid and flung here towards The Capitol, the city where Horror, Sci-fi and Dystopia meet, one of the most dangerous cities in all of Fantasea. You crash-landed in The Capitol where the thought police gathered you up and put you into these cells ready to provide entertainment for all of the districts as you fight the monsters.’
We were all awestruck. He was totally right. Everything had happened just as he had said it.
‘Very impressive,” said our captain. ‘You seem to have us at a disadvantage, you know all about us but we know nothing about you.’
The steely-eyed gentleman extended his hand and said, ‘Holmes. Sherlock Holmes. Detective and at present captive just like you.’
The drumming outside got louder.
‘What’s happening?’ I asked.
‘It’s time,’ said Sherlock. The bars facing the arena started to slide up into the ceiling and the wall containing the cell door started to move! It slid forward, pushing us out into the arena.
‘I don’t want to go out there,’ yelled Ship’s Boy Kate.
‘Take this,’ said Sherlock, slipping her a small glass vial with the word MELANGE written on its side.
‘The Melange is from a far off planet. It will help you out-think any problem you have out there. I had an intuition that someone would need my help today. I must leave you now. I’m afraid my means of escape has room for only one.”
And with that Sherlock winked before flinging off his travelling cloak revealing an outfit identical to those of the thought police who had brought us here. He really was a master of disguise. He tapped on the cell door and, in a remarkably transformed voice, asked to be let out.
‘The prisoners are ready to fight. You can let me out now.’
The door was opened and he was gone, leaving us to the arena.
Without a moment to spare, we each guzzled down a bit of the Melange from the vial and walked out into the sun-scorched, sand-covered arena. A huge video screen floated overhead on which a woman’s face loomed.
‘Welcome to The Games,’ she hissed. ‘Peace in our districts is dependent on all of us remembering that in life there are monsters, but The Capitol keeps you safe by keeping the monsters in the arena. Let the games begin. Release the vampires!’
A gate opened and a teenage boy stepped out. He was very sullen-looking and devilishly handsome and as he walked out into the sun his skin sparkled! He was the strangest vampire I had ever seen but instead of attacking he fell to his knees and shouted, ‘Bella!’ in floods of tears.
‘Oh… erm. Forget the vampires. Release the Sandworm!” came the cold, calculating voice from the screen.
Twist leapt up in fright onto Cook Conomos’ head as the whole ground started to shake and rumble like an earthquake, shifting and groaning. A vast well opened up in the middle of the arena. We all started to slide into it and, as we got closer, we saw that the well had teeth! it was the mouth of a gigantic worm monster. We were terrified, but it was then that the Melange given to us by Sherlock Holmes kicked in. It suddenly seemed very easy to get out of this predicament. Almost too easy.
Cook Conomos with Twist on her hat, held out her ladle, I grabbed hold with one hand and shot out my other hand to grab Satnav Steve’s compass hand, Steve hooked his arm around the armoured elbow of the captain, she clasped one of Lookout Kate’s bamboo protective panels and Kate in turn clung to Copy Kat’s strange scaled armour. Thus connected we did the unthinkable. We allowed ourselves to slide inside.
We slipped between the monster’s giant teeth and then, as if on cue, we let go of each other and started to tickle the monster’s lips and gums. It seemed like the most natural thing to do in the world. The Melange given to us by Sherlock Holmes really was wonderful stuff. We now knew without a doubt that tickling the monster’s lips and gums could lead to just one result…
The monster SNEEZED!!!
It started as a rumbling,
as a groaning in its bowels.
It shivered into a trembling
a wet slithering of sounds.
It roared into a deafening,
a sound so loud and new.
To our surprise we were soaring
on a monster’s tremendous ATCHOOOOOOO!!!
We were shot high up into the air, up past the floating vidscreen with its image of the frosty Capitol leader, up high and out of the arena with its hordes of a now-booing crowd.
We chuckled as we soared, so delightfully proud of the clever escape that the Melange had enabled us to enact.
But as the effects of the Melange wore off we realised with utter shock that we had not considered where we might land…
Now, just to be very clear from the outset, I have never been in any doubt about the existence or otherwise of Gruffalos. I know they exist: I know that they have terrible tusks and terrible claws and terrible teeth in terrible jaws, I know they mate for life and prefer temperate climates and wooded areas. But none of us have ever seen one.
So we are going to Animaland, a chameleon-shaped landmass off Fantasea, to seek out the Gruffalo. I shinned up my lookout post and kept an eye out for any white or pink whales.
The Gruffalo wasn’t easy to find. We asked an owl, and a fox, but they were no use at all. At last we found a mouse, who pointed us – rather twitchily – in the right direction.
The Gruffalo was leaning up against an oak tree, scratching his back and humming.
He glared at us as he approached, and bared his teeth. Then he let out the most terrible roar.
We stood on deck, in a line, and our hair blew backwards in the gale.
Then the Captain retrieved her hat, and set it back on her head. ‘When they said you had terrible teeth in your terrible jaws, my dear,’ she said, ‘I didn’t realise it meant you hadn’t brushed them for years.’
The Gruffalo glared. He was opening his mouth to roar at us again, this time with extra spittle, when Copy Kat interrupted him.
‘When did you last see a dentist? Dental hygiene is really quite important, you know.’
The Gruffalo blushed. ‘In 1999, I think,’ he said. ‘I don’t like the noise the machines make.’
‘Would you like a toothbrush?’ asked In-The-Know Joe. ‘I’m sure we have a spare one.’
The Gruffalo smiled: and although his teeth were truly atrocious, his smile was beautiful. ‘That would actually be nice,’ he said. ‘I’ve had a scrap of deer meat caught in my back teeth since 2007.’
I ran and found the spare toothbrush and some Colgate, and we all watched as, very carefully, very thoroughly, the Gruffalo brushed his teeth.
He spat, neatly and politely, over the gangplank. ‘Ugh!’ He made a face. ‘I hate mint. Is this dental hygiene? If so, it is not delicious.’
‘You get used to it,’ said Satnav Stephen.
The Gruffalo looked hopefully around the ship. ‘You wouldn’t have anything to take the taste away, would you?’ he asked.
‘We were just about to have afternoon tea,’ said Cook Conomos. ‘Would you like some?’
‘I’ve never had any. Is it like Dental Hygiene?’
‘No,’ said Cook Conomos. ‘You’ll love it.’ Cook Conomos began brewing tea, and uncovered a dish of toasted sandwiches. The smell of it wafted out of the ship and out into the forest.
There was a knock on the side of the ship.
‘I’ll bet you ten pounds,’ said the Captain, and a smile began to play at the corner of her mouth, ‘that that’s the Tiger.’
‘Did I smell tea?’ said a Tigerish voice.
‘My old friend!’ cried the Captain. ‘We meet again! After all these years! You don’t look a day older!’
‘Neither do you!’ cried the Tiger.
‘My dear Tiger,’ said the Captain, ‘I was six.’
‘Well, perhaps a little taller,’ said the Tiger.
At that moment there was another knock on the ship’s door.
Cook Conomos opened it.
Her face was very straight as she turned to the Captain, but there was something about her eyes that suggested she was trying not to laugh.
‘Captain,’ she said. ‘We’re going to need quite a lot more cake.’
‘Who is it?’
‘Well, it’s dogs.’
‘Quite. They’re all Dalmatians. I assume. Some of them might not be: it’s hard to tell, there’s so many of them and they keep moving. But – yes, I think it’s safe to say, we have 101 Dalmatians to tea -’
The Ever After’s crew began to chip in:
‘Plus the Tiger -’
‘And the Gruffalo -’
‘And a bear,’ said the Gruffalo, ‘who’s just arrived and who claims, as far as I can tell, to be called poo.’
‘Oh lovely! How is he?’
‘Well, at the moment, he’s opening all the jars in the galley in the hope that they might be honey, or jam or marmalade -’
‘Did someone say marmalade?’ came a voice. A furry face peered round the ship’s door.
‘Is this the same bear? Or another bear?’
‘I,’ said the bear with great dignity, ‘am an entirely other bear.’
‘Of course you are! Let me take your suitcase,’ said Copy Kat. ‘You must be tired. Is it raining outside?’
The bear began to pull off his raincoat and wellingtons. ‘Not right now, no,’ he said. His voice was gentle and earnest. ‘But one never knows, with Animaland.’
‘One never does,’ said the Captain. ‘I wonder if -’
At that moment there was hideous, bone-shaking noise outside the ship. Everyone froze. Pooh put down the honey pot.
Joe looked out of the portal. His face, as he looked up, was inscrutable.
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘I think we have a problem.’
Gruffalo image by Katy Riddell inspired by Axel Scheffler’s illustrations for the Gruffalo stories written by Julia Donaldson and published by Macmillan Children’s Books.
Winnie the Pooh image by Katy Riddell inspired by E. H. Shepard’s illustrations for the Winnie the Pooh stories by A. A. Milne.
Fine weather dawning for story-collecting. I’ve got a restless crew though – in that dangerous mid-voyage doldrums brought on by over-excitement and homesickness. The Land of Laughter left them in a silly mood, and they were further wound up by the frustration of being lost in Outer Space (I’m beginning to have my doubts about the skills of the Navigation Officer, though he came with the best references – from James T Kirk, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain and Dora the Explorer herself).
Satnav Steve tends to blame Twist for misdirection, but when I confronted her, she bristled and denied all knowledge. I thought our action adventures would allow everyone to let off steam, and to some extent they did, but at the same time they added exhaustion to the mix. My crew are, by and large, a skilled and valiant bunch, but even the most stoical can be pushed too far. I think they need settling down.
It’s calm sailing, and Lookout Kate reports distant land. Humandrama, I’m sure. She can see home fires burning. There are families I plan to visit: the Marches (those four girls and their Marmee are always welcoming), the Mortmains (a little eccentric, but that means they are likely to accept my motley crew), and the Cassons (good fun but also unconventional, and the hospitality can be a bit haphazard if their mother has been busy painting in her shed – but then Cook Conomos can rustle up a feast out of the most unpromising ingredients). I have a soft spot for Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis, and we can get to them up the railway line. I’d like to gather up that moment on the platform when Bobbie’s father returned, for the Story Museum’s collection. It’s a gem, to add to our treasures. Though all that steam will require a bit of ingenious protective packaging from In-the-Know Joe.
I am working on the principle that a bit of weeping can be good for a crew. Releases tension. And besides bucketsful of tears can be useful for swabbing the deck. Because we’re after some moments that could have pretty soggy consequences. The happy endings as much as the sad ones. Family reunions (Hetty Feather and her mum, Harry looking into the Mirror of Erised), substitute parents stepping into the breach (Miss Honey, Charles in ‘Rooftoppers’ defending Sophie against the woman from social services, Mister Tom rescuing William), and, well, let’s face it, a bit of romantic soppiness (Will and Lyra’s bench, and quite a few star-crossed lovers). Generally I expect stiff upper lips from my crew, but this may be the time to bawl rather than bale.
Well that didn’t work out quite as I expected. Yes, there were tears, and also some very jolly family gatherings. But the crew wandered into a school building and Satnav Steve found himself involved in a fracas with Greg Heffley and a lot of kids yelling “Cheese Touch!”. Cook Conomos too was drawn by a smell of cake into a class full of children and witnessed Miss Trunchbull hitting a chocolate-covered boy called Bruce Bogtrotter over the head with a plate.
And Lookout Kate stayed up late with a bunch of boarders for a midnight feast. Meanwhile In-the-Know Joe, who had been perfecting his time machine, was all over history, and emerged quite shaken by everything he had observed. So instead of coming back aboard rested, they were all even more overwrought, not to mention short of sleep and on a sugar high.
With such a fractious crew, I think we could be heading for trouble. This evening they answered back to orders, as if they are all taking their cue from Twist. And there are mutterings about the strictness of my regime, when everyone knows a safe ship needs a firm hand. They explored a lot of stories today about standing up to bullies. I fear it could be giving them ideas.
I am not sure I shall sleep easy in my bunk.
Ahoy there, story-seekers! It’s Satnav Steven here, ship’s navigator onboard the Prattleship-Class Narrative Ark, The Ever After.
UGH… what a crazy mission it’s been so far. We’d spent the past few hours… or days… or weeks… drifting through the deepest depths of outer space. It’s hard to tell how long it had been with all this silence and blackness, but one thing was certain … the crew were all getting really, really, really, REALLY BORED!!
We ventured out here to seek Great A’tuin the lunar turtle that carries the Discworld on its back with the help of four giant elephants. It was the most INCREDIBLE thing I’ve ever seen. I nearly cried with excitement!
Sadly, before long Great A’tuin swam off though the crushing gulf of space, leaving us adrift and with very little hope of figuring out where we were.
Captain Jones turned to me for answers of course, but I didn’t have the slightest clue how to get back to wonderful world of the Story Universe. I accidentally dropped my compass in Cook Conomos’s soup yesterday lunchtime, and now it only pointed north-west no matter which direction I faced.
I was contemplating being honest and admitting to my fellow crew members that I’ve got the worst sense of direction this side of the Milky Way, when a huge stroke of luck rocketed past.
Suddenly, from out of the darkness, Lookout Kate spotted a glowing spaceship. It streaked alongside us with a hoard of brightly coloured aliens peering through its windows. In-The-Know Joe radioed across to them, but couldn’t make any sense of their strange language except that they LOVED underpants.
The creatures certainly looked like they knew where they were going, so I made a snap decision. I followed their course past undiscovered planets and galaxies of stars until… DRUM ROLL PLEASE… the massive and terrifically beautiful Story Universe was looming before us again. Phew!
The spaceship was heading for a cluster of islands at the eastern edge of the Appendy Seas. After a long struggle with squillions of the ship’s maps, I realised they were the Islands of Action. BRILLIANT! I didn’t need any further self-encouragement, so I programmed The Ever After to follow the aliens to this exciting new destination. After all, I’d always wanted to visit the Canyon of Adventure for as long as I can remember.
Before we knew it, The Ever After was cruising past the most incredible sights. I joined my crew members on the observation deck to enjoy the view… and what a view it was.
Captain Jones guided us past the haunted crags of Marooners’ Rock, where Captain Hook and the pirates of The Jolly Roger left their victims to be swallowed by the sea.
On the cliffs above the mouth of the great Canyon of Adventure, Lookout Kate pointed out the wreckage of a jet-plane with a gang of feral schoolboys dancing nearby it, and great prehistoric beasts lumbering about the edges of a vast, deep jungle. We were entering a lost world, that’s for sure.
‘Let’s take a closer look,’ Captain Jones said, and steered the ship carefully into the canyon. There were steep cliffs on either side of us and the narrow strip of sea beneath us looked deep and dangerous. ‘Keep a sharp eye.’
For a moment everything seemed quiet, until… COMPLETE CHAOS BROKE OUT!! King Louis and his army of monkeys appeared in the trees that overhung the gorge and started pelting us with rotten fruit.
A Viking boy, riding a toothless dragon shot past us. He was being chased by a swarm of terrifying, fire-breathing monsters. Indiana Jones narrowly missed the prose nest as he swung across the canyon on a vine to escape the path of an enormous stone ball that rolled down the rock-face, and a great white whale breached from the murky depths and sent a wave crashing across our hull. It was Moby Dick, and a very clear sign that it was time to get out of here.
‘Activate the narrative thrust!’ Captain Jones shouted, as King Kong smashed through a giant gate made from whole tree trunks and tried to grab us, swatting his mighty arms this way and that.
We were off…
We whizzed through gullies and under toppled columns of stone. We swooped to avoid shrieking cannonballs from a castle of knights that towered above us, and dodged poison darts being fired by a tribe of cannibals in a ruined temple on the rocks below us.
Finally, just when it looked like we were done for, The Ever After shot out of the other end of the Canyon of Adventure and made a steady climb into the cool evening air. Everything felt suddenly quiet and peaceful.
Before us we could see the quadruple, sprawling masses of the cities of Thriller, Crime, War, and Spies.
‘What next, Captain Jones?’ asked In-The-Know Joe.
The Captain looked at us with a glint in her eye and slight smile. ‘Those cities won’t explore themselves,’ she said… and on we went.